This book has the hallmarks of an official history: It frequently refers to official documents and meeting minutes, elaborates on the managerial cultu...moreThis book has the hallmarks of an official history: It frequently refers to official documents and meeting minutes, elaborates on the managerial culture of MI5, and contains organizational diagrams as an appendix. It also contains accounts of the most important counter-espionage and counter-terrorism cases in the history of MI5, and a large number of interesting background facts. Nevertheless, readers who are only looking for a gripping espionage story may be bored by the story of MI5 as an institution. Strange as it is, considering that MI5 had no legal basis for much of its existence, and the government stubbornly (but with very little credibility) refused to acknowledge that existence.
But the political story also deserves to be told. The relationship between MI5 and its own government is an interesting topic in itself, as governments were over-eager to use the secret service against their political opponents, or worried that it was acting against them. Christopher Andrew argues that MI5 generally stayed within the boundaries of constitutional propriety, despite the pressure occasionally exerted on it.
The author acknowledged in an interview that there were deletions for security reasons, and especially in the later chapters there were stories he was not allowed to tell for reasons he personally disagreed with. Nevertheless it is an independent account, sympathetic to its subject, but not uncritical. (less)
An interesting but very dry history of the Secret Intelligence Service. The problem may be that Jeffery has fallen for the modern management illusion...moreAn interesting but very dry history of the Secret Intelligence Service. The problem may be that Jeffery has fallen for the modern management illusion that the fate of an organization is decided by its organogram and the personality at its head. But while it is interesting to learn something more about the three men who used the designation 'C' in the period described (1909-1949) there is a lot more to a secret intelligence organization than that. Jeffery gives us too little insight in the culture of MI6, the personalities if the other people who worked for it, and the actual work that they did.
There are some little gems in the text, and some fascinating new stories, for example about the attempts of MI6 to sink or sabotage the ships that brought Jewish refugees to Palestine in the late 1940s. But at times Jeffery gives the impression that other people have told all the interesting stories about MI6 and he comes to fill in the grey background of bureaucratic in-fighting in Whitehall. For a historian with access to previously unopened archives, that is a shame.
Maybe because this intended to be an official history, he tries to be extensive in geographical coverage, instead of giving any information in depth. Sweeping global overviews give us a few names, a bit of local political background, and perhaps a few sentences of biography, before people are allowed to sink in obscurity again: So often you feel that there is a fascinating story there, perhaps several, that is not being told.
The book is readable but it took me a long time to get through this. And I disliked the typesetting, especially the way in which an 'e' collides with a preceding 'r'. A tiny detail but it looks so ugly that it is disruptive.(less)